Explaining MBTI preferences

One of the biggest difficulties people have with the MBTI, is the concept of only being one or the other. “Surely I’m both and I can do both” is the biggest argument against the ‘preference’ argument. Well, yes, you can. Naturally, in life, you grow to learn how to do a variety of skills and you learn where you abilities lie. The nature of ‘preferences’ though is about which we ‘prefer’ to do.

The insights you derive from the MBTI centre on your understanding of ‘preferences’. The classic signature exercise is a great way of visualising this task. If you don’t know it, sign your normal signature. Now sign it with your other hand. There are clear and obvious differences. The purpose of the task isn’t about the differences though. It’s about the feeling of writing with one hand over the other.

Our development means we often just do things one way, because that’s the habit we’ve developed. It doesn’t mean we can’t do the other things though. If we practice it enough, we will be able to, and that’s important.

Equally important though, is the balance we have in our lives. We cannot constantly practice one preference, either consciously or sub-consciously. Our psyche just doesn’t allow it. Everything about the human physical condition is about achieving balance, and our psyche is no different. I had a great discussion with someone once about his confusion of being an introvert or extravert. His confusion lay in his excessive display of extravert type behaviours over a sustained period of time, and his sudden change to a career as a lone consultant. One of the reasons I suggested this happened was because he had excessively practiced his extravert preference, and his psyche was forcing him to regain balance by practising his introvert preference.

On a more daily basis though, we see this in practise in the variety of tasks we do. This starts from the moment we wake to the moment we sleep. We will, and do, practise our preferences constantly. We just know that we prefer to do one thing more so than the other. The significance of deciding one over the other is about accepting that we have a preference.


We work in an extroverted world

I’m a big fan of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. I trained in it several years ago and have been mentally ruling the world with it ever since. It’s a powerful psychometric tool that offers a very understandable way to interpret the way in which we see the world around us, how we understand it, how we describe it and how we work within it. It’s one of the most popular psychometrics used and has been translated to over 50 languages.

I’ve written previously about how the MBTI can be understood by everyone, and it really can. Although it is a psychometric, and official training is mandatory, it doesn’t mean it can’t be discussed outside of the ‘club’. Indeed, I’ve often found colleagues who aren’t trained in it understand it so well, that their insights into where they identify preferences can be astounding.

I want to talk about the work context specifically, and what the Extroversion/Introversion preference can offer us in this context. The title of this post sums it all up really, but it’s worth exploring why and in what way. First, though, let’s clarify how the terms are defined in MBTI language. The key points to remember are:
– It’s about being one or the other
– It’s NOT about strength of one over the other
– It’s about where our energy comes from
– We can learn to do both, but will always have a preference of one over the other
– We will do both daily, that doesn’t mean you are both
– We will differ in the nuances of what behaviours we exhibit dependent on our preference

The world of work is a buzzing hive of activity. It has to be in order to survive. If you’re a sales driven organisation, everything in your being is about connecting with and interacting with others in order to convince someone you have something they need. You have to communicate and you have to display gregarious type behaviours. If you’re a customer service driven organisation, you are all about listening to and offering a service to those seeking you out. You have to listen, provide information, suggest options, and be engaging enough that they walk away feeling they’ve got the answer they needed. If you’re an administrative organisation, everything you do is about process and policy. That involves iterations of documentation, meetings galore, and checking requirements against what’s produced regularly. There are few organisations where displaying extroverted behaviours isn’t a core part of how you operate (libraries I guess?).

That’s all obvious though right? Right. So what does that mean? It means we’re effectively blocking out up to half of our working population and subjecting them to working practices which just aren’t suited to the way they like to work. Sound obvious? Well it might sound obvious, but how many of you know what to actually do about it?

How do you deal with these behaviours:
– The person who is quiet, softly spoken and doesn’t really say a lot. They’re pleasant enough, and actually very personable, but they’re just quiet.
– The person who in a meeting will say nothing throughout the meeting, even though you know they have an opinion they can share, but they’re not.
– The person who won’t initiate conversations, or social gatherings
– The person who doesn’t attend team/company do’s. Not because they have other commitments, they just don’t.

I could go on. This is a basic list of introverted-esque behaviours. If you’re reading that list and thinking – I could manage that by, or I could include them by, or they are missing out on so much because, you’ve really missed the point of their preference.

The preference of an Introvert drives them to not have a need to do all those things and more. For them it’s perfectly fine to just be by alone, to not attend team/company events, to have time off when you go home. They’re not conflicted by it, and they’re certainly not feeling like they’re missing out. These assumptions are all driven be those of us who are extroverted.

How do we help then? How do we make them (introverts) like us (extroverts)? You don’t, and you can’t, and stop thinking as if it will happen. This is the core of what the MBTI offers us in understanding the extroversion/introversion preference. We demand (informally) everyone to act in line with extroversion. We forget that not everyone wants to act that way and it’s perfectly acceptable for them to not. If we can be conscious of this, then we can foster a better team environment, and better working practices. As my old boss used to say, he learned to be a professional extrovert, but he didn’t stop being an introvert.

>The Myers Briggs Type Indicator for everyone

>So I’d rule the world with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. I think it’s a fantastic psychometric tool that can help you understand so much about yourself. I qualified to use it in 2005 I think and have been using it at every opportunity since! I often reflect on my preferences and what I’m doing to either strenghten them or develop my non-preferences. So what’s the purpose of today’s blog? To keep it simple and easy for everyone to read and decipher.

I won’t go into the history of the MBTI. As important as it is, I want to focus on the preferences.

So firstly, are you an ‘extrovert’ or an ‘introvert’? It’s important to remember that although behaviours are what are observable, behaviours alone do not dictate preference. For an extrovert, they gain their energy from people and being active and interactive. That can take any form deemed appropriate. For an introvert they gain their energy from their own world. That means removing themselves from normal activity to have time they can use to reflect and find that energy they’re looking for. Both are fully capable and often display behvaiours that are described as ‘extrovert’ and as ‘introvert’. Because of this, people often say ‘I’m both’. Poppy cock. Do you prefer using your left or right hand regardless of how well you may use either? It’s the same principle. We have a natural pull that means we either gain our energy from others (extrovert) or from ourselves (introvert).

Next is do you have a ‘sensing’ or ‘intuiting’ preference. A sensing person is someone who tends to prefer things such as facts, practicalities, data, proven methods. An intuiting person is someone who tends to prefer things such as ideas, interpreting meanings, finding connections. It’s startling how observable the behaviours are for a sensing person compared to an intuiting person. Sensing people describe things very literally, do things practically and enjoy working according to tried and tested methods. Intuiting people like to work with uncertainties and find out solutions to problems in interesting and creative ways.

The third set of preferences are ‘thinking’ and ‘feeling’. A person who has thinking preference is someone who makes decisions about the world using logic as their key vehicle. A person with feeling preference uses their personal values system as their driver for making decisions. A thinking person is all about the process and making sure it works – business first, relationships second. A feeling person is all about harmony and ensuring that others are consulted – relationships first, business second. What I like best about trying to figure this set of preferences is how people see themselves. They define ‘feeling’ as being ’emotional’, or ‘thinking’ as being more ‘rational’ where that isn’t how Myers and Briggs define it at all. You can display just as much emotion/passion and rational thought using either thinking or feeling preference.

Last is to consider if you have ‘judging’ or ‘perceiving’ preference. A judging person likes to plan the world they work in. For them it’s all about schedules, keeping things on plan, having closure with things, being tidy and very deliberate about what they do. A perceiving person likes to work in a way which seems to make no sense. They have rough plans, out of date to-do-lists and generally seem haphazard in their approach to the world. The best example of thinking how the two differ comes in seeing how weekends are planned. A judging person will know what is happening in the weekend to come from Friday evening through to Sunday night. They will have times things are meant to happen, who with, when, where, and how. Perceiving people will have an idea of what’s happening over the weekend and will likely finalise plans minute before the next event is meant to take place.

So that’s an overview of the MBTI. The next step normally is to assign yourself a 4 letter ‘type’: E = Extrovert, I = Introvert, S = Sensing, N = iNtuition, T = Thinking, F = Feeling, J = Judging and P = Perceiving. A possible 16 types exist. There’s no best or worst type. It’s all about helping you to understand how you best operate. You are then able to define how best to work best with others. So for example, my type is ENFP. This is technically defined as extroverted intuiting with introverted feeling. That means nothing if you haven’t been through a formal training process to understand ‘type dynamics’. For me though, it helps me to think about what my strengths are, how these influence my life decisions, what weaknesses I’m likely to display and how I can employ methods to counter these.

The great thing about the MBTI is that it’s easy to understand and gives an easy overview of self-awareness. If you take the time to study it further though you begin to understand more about yourself, insights into your own life and how to use the tool to help you do more.

The downfall of the MBTI though is that too many people think they get it when they really don’t. Language becomes easily confused. They try to define others according to MBTI behaviours when they don’t really understand the language. Because there are 16 types, people feel they are blocked in and pigeon holed. The classic response is, “surely I’m all of these things at different times in my life?” This line of responses is mainly due to a lack of appreciation for the tool.

So hopefully the above gives a brief overview to the MBTI. There are a lot of available online resources to help find out more. If you want to get a true picture though please find someone who is formally qualified by OPP in the EU or CAPT in the US. They will give you full feedback on the tool, give you the full and proper questionnaire to complete and help you go through a full self selection about what type best fits your personality.